Students to return to school full-time; MinCo seeking waiver

Mineral Daily News-Tribune
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By Liz Beavers

Tribune Managing Editor

CHARLESTON — Following the West Virginia Board of Education’s announcement Tuesday that the state’s students in grades pre-k through 8 should return to school full time next week, Mineral County superintendent Troy Ravenscroft said he has applied for a waiver to allow the county’s students to attend four days a week for now.

If that waiver is not granted, however, all Mineral County students will return to school full time beginning Monday.

The WVBE’s vote Tuesday was designed to eliminate blended schedules in which students have alternated between classroom and online learning and to bring students back to full time learning by March 3.

Those families that have chosen to keep their children on all virtual learning since the pandemic started will not be affected, however.

Included in the state board’s ruling is the stipulation that counties can apply for a waiver to conduct in-person learning four days per week and virtual instruction on the fifth day.

Tuesday’s statewide return-to-school ruling is to be implemented regardless of the county’s color on the West Virginia DHHR COVID map.

As for high school students, the state board said they too are to return to five days a week unless the county’s COVID infection rate is high.

The rationale for that is that “older students may transmit the virus at rates similar to adults,” according to the WVDE.

Mineral County is currently in the green on the map, and has been for the past week. According to the Mineral County Health Department, the county’s number of active COVID positives had dipped to 40 as of Tuesday.

Wednesday evening, Ravenscroft released a statement on returning to school, saying that "On Monday, March 1, we will return to traditional in-person learning for all grades pre-k - 12 ... We prefer not to wait until March 3 as changing mid-week is not desired.

"The only variable at this time is whether it will be a four-day week or a five-day week."

In response to Tuesday’s announcement, the West Virginia Education Association asked the board to allow counties to remain flexible with virus-based decisions.

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic barreled into our lives, our driving concern has been and continues to be the safety of our students, their families and educators,” said WVEA president Dale Lee. “West Virginia educators have done the impossible to reach each student even with the lack of technology and broadband, all the while caring for their own families.”

Lee urged the WVDE to “Respect educators’ professional judgment in safely teaching our students.”

To  help facilitate the state board’s decision, West Virginia’s Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh presented data regarding the transmission of COVID-19 within the school system, telling them that, in line with national research, the state’s data indicates minimal transmissions within schools especially among younger learners.

“Early in the pandemic we thought school transmission was closely tied to community transmission rates,” he said. “We’ve since learned this is not correct. We are finding that when mitigations are followed, schools are among the safest places for our children.”

“The decisions we are making are based on data,” said WVBE president Miller Hall. “According to Dr. Marsh, it is safe to return to five days of instruction for our elementary and middle school students, and that is what we must do. Children don’t have equal access to technology, and it is very important to restore the support of the school system in the lives of our children. It’s time to return.”

Gov. Jim Justice said last week that all teachers who received their first dose of the virus vaccine would be offered their second doses.

Students switched from in-person to online learning last March when Justice ordered classrooms closed for the remainder of the school year. The start of 2020-21 instruction was pushed back to Sept. 8, and counties have since juggled between learning in school or at home depending on virus outbreaks in their areas.

The Department of Health and Human Resources said there were 8,528 active COVID-19 cases statewide on Monday, the lowest since Nov. 12. Active cases have been falling rapidly since peaking at 29,257 on Jan. 10, a month after the state started administering virus vaccines.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.